The Bradford mela, a spill over of the IIFA awards ceremony during the weekend was filled with zest, revelry and bon homie. With Junoon strumming up the mood…mouth-watering sheik kebab enticing appetites and people of different origins drowning their differences in a combined fervour, it was undoubtedly l’affaire to remember.
Peel Park in Bradford was the venue for Europe’s largest mela last weekend. The mela is also the largest free event in Yorkshire. Bradford, which is famous for its large Pakistani community, often called ‘mini Pakistan’ or ‘Bradistan’. Little wonder, then, that this community has popularised the word mela and that the city is now home to this internationally renowned festival.
“A wonderful showcase for local and international artists,” is how Bradford’s Mayor described the event. A ‘celebration of Bradford at its best’, said the organisers of the mela. ‘Marvellous Mela’, said my daughter as we sauntered in the sprawling grounds of Peel Park. Up and down the hills we went, like in the musical The Sound of Music. But here the sounds were Asian.
And the smells were, well, Bradfordelicious! “Hmm, lovely chuti & kebab. A can of Qiblah cola as well, please.” The mela market, fun fair and local community stalls seemed to stretch on endlessly. The atmosphere of the place was hardly that of a northern England city.
Herein was a mighty fusion of cultures: Eastern, Western, English, Pakistani, Indian, African, Arab and others — a potpourri of sounds, smells, and sights. A mullah next to a punk, the mini-skirted Yorkshire lass alongside a hijab-wearing Mirpuri girl, the Zulu warriors dancing with bhangra rappers, and ‘Arab Sheikh Kebab’ embracing ‘Indian Onion Bhaji’. The place was Bradfordelightful!
“Are Junoon performing here?” someone asked me. Don’t be daft mate! Junoon were in London, at that Rhythms of Indus function at the Royal Albert Hall. You know, the one attended by General Musharraf during his trip to England last week. Among the top names appearing at the Bradford mela this year were Apache Indian (remember the hit “Boomshackalak”?), bhangra man Malkit Singh (golden star of India), soul singer Lemar of Fame Academy, and Asian comedian Jeff Mirza.
Fun>Da>Mental (FDM), the radical ‘global chaos’ or world music group, were on stage collaborating with the Mighty Zulu Nation of South Africa. It was an electrifying fusion of Afro-Asian beats, of qawwali, rap, punk and Bollywood. It’s a wonder how calm and friendly people like Aki Nawaz and Dave Watts of FDM transform into highly charged beings on the stage. They certainly perform with feeling, bursting with energy.
Some performers took the platform to convey a social message or express their political thoughts. Aki, or Haq Nawaz Qureshi, is a Bradford lad — a second generation Pakistani. He established Nation Records in 1988 and formed FDM in 1991 as a means to enable greater cultural interactions, to experiment in world music, as well as to provide a platform for addressing political issues and raise a voice against racism and injustice. At the mela, for instance, he criticised Blair’s support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq and dedicated one tune to ‘the women of Bosnia’.
An integral part of FDM’s work is collaboration with other artistes. “When we collaborate with anyone,” said Aki when I interviewed him, “we try to maintain the integrity of the original qawwali, Zulu singers or whoever. It’s not about FDM taking the limelight. We once did live collaborations with Aziz Mian Qawal. Aziz Mian was my dad’s hero and suddenly I was on stage with him! It was really difficult, but interesting”. FDM’s collaboration with the Mighty Zulu Nation at the mela worked really well. Chief Aki and his team-mates have a knack for concocting some delicious global music dishes.
When I was a kid in nearby Huddersfield, my father would often to take us on the half-hour drive to Bradford for a meal at an Indian/Pakistani restaurant. A trip to Bradford’s Lumb Lane used to be an exciting affair for the family. As a Bradford lad, did Aki, too, remember Lumb Lane (most of the Pakistani area there has since been demolished)? His reply was, “Yes. We used to go there every Sunday morning on our bikes for Punjabi halva purree!”
I’m sure Dr Salman Ahmad of Lahore also knows a thing or two about halva purree. In fact, the Lahoris know a lot about eating. To my amazement, Salman was at the mela. On stage. “Ladies and gentlemen... Junoon!” But Junoon were not listed in the programme. Perhaps the person who had enquired about them was right after all.
There was a big roar of welcome. Yes, here in Bradford was ‘South Asia’s biggest rock band. On stage were the three members of Junoon: guitarists Salman and Brian rooted on the right and left side of the stage, and singer Ali prancing about in the centre. They opened up with an instrumental version of Pakistan’s national anthem, and then launched into their popular tunes, such as Jazba Junoon and Sayonee. The youthful crowd went mad: ‘sayoneeee’ they chanted, waving Pakistani /Indian flags, raising arms, doing bhangra.
All in all, a fantastically enjoyable mela, and a great day for the family. On the way out I noticed a statue of a prominent local man in the park. It was Mr Peel himself, the man after whom the park was named. On closer inspection I saw that someone had changed the ‘P’ of ‘Peel’ to a ‘B’ and added ‘N’ and ‘A’ to it so that it now read ‘Nabeel’. Nabeel Park, Bradfordistan: “I woz ‘ere (in Indian standard English “I was here”), June 21, 2003”!